Adhisha Dahanayake competes in the sport of powerlifting which is a strength sport and she pulls and pushes some serious weights but what truly makes her strong is her inner fighting spirit that enables her to keep pushing in all areas of her life. Adhisha is also a successful entrepreneur being one of the founders and the power behind the Double XL brand which is the first plus sized brand in Sri Lanka. Adhisha has not let the hardships and challenges that life has thrown at her get her down. She is a fighter. When she fell, she picked herself up and built herself to become stronger than ever. Here is Adhisha’s inspirational story that will inspire and motivate anyone to keep fighting and keep moving forward.
Fitness & Sports: Describe your childhood and how it laid the foundation for you to be the lady you are today?
Adhisha Dahanayake: When I was schooling at Good Shephard Convent Kandy, I became the Games Captain in my last year at school in 2001. This was a significant step for me in my sports career. I am very grateful to my parents because they always encouraged me in sports and they too were good athletes in their own right. My Father was a Divisional Forest Officer and my Mother was a housewife. My Father did athletics at school and my Mother did netball and basketball at school. However due to family commitments they could not continue their sports careers. The sport that I excelled in was athletics. My events were the shotput, discus and javelin. Before this I ran the 1500m and the long jump. I was the school shot put Champion for 5 consecutive years and I also participated in the Zonal Meet for Kandy and set a record of 7.25 metres for the shotput. I also played netball and basketball and was the school netball captain for 2 years and the athletics captain for 2 years. My brother played cricket for Kingswood College in the First 11 team as well as for the Nondescript Cricket Club (NCC) team. I come from a family that enjoyed sports so sports was a big part of my childhood. My parents encouraged us to play sports mainly for the fact that sports guide you to be a better person. Sports teaches you to get up when you lose which is so important for life. I as the Games Captain and my brother as the Cricket Captain learnt leadership from sports during our school days. The lessons I learnt from sports helped me in starting my own business and being resilient in the face of adversity.
F&S: Tell us about the sport of powerlifting?
sport that has 3 segments which are the Squat, Bench Press and Deadlift. The competitor gets 3 attempts to lift the maximum weight for each lift. Then the maximum lifts are totalled and the competitor who has the largest total is the winner of the competition. When you Squat you have to go below 90 degrees and come back to the standing position. The Bench Press is when you lie on the bench with your feet fully resting on the ground and you bring the barbell close to your chest and then press the bar till your arms are straightened. The Deadlift is lifting the barbell off the ground and holding it with your arms fully stretched in the standing position. The weight category that I compete is 84kg where you have to be above 76kg and below 84kg. Powerlifting is governed by the International Powerlifting Federation. Powerlifting is a Commonwealth sport and is included in the South Asian Games. The World Powerlifting Championships is the ultimate competition for powerlifting.
F&S: Describe the circumstances that led you to take up this sport?
AD: I am very new to powerlifting, taking it up in 2018. 7 years ago I started going to the gym to lose weight. I was 96kg at the time and was feeling very uncomfortable and I had just started my clothing brand Double XL so I had some free time which I wanted to use productively. I joined the High Octane gym just as they opened. I really pushed myself at the gym and lost 30kg. I was eating healthy as well. Then my Father who was my mentor and guidance passed away suddenly and I was devastated. I am a stubborn person by nature but my Father was the only one I would listen to. That is how much of a Daddy’s girl I am. After losing my Father suddenly, I did not want to accept reality and I partied way too much. It is not that one should not go out but the frequency that I was partying was extreme. Sometimes I would go out alone as well. My training was put on hold. My lifestyle was not healthy. So then I went on a yoga retreat to Melbourne and then to Belgium for another Yoga retreat. When I was in Belgium another participant of the yoga programme spoke some encouraging and enlightening words to me. He said that I was a very strong person who founded her own brand and that my happiness was within me and I realized that running away was not the solution. I had to return to Sri Lanka and face reality and get strong again. I like to note that even though I may have been physically away from the office I still was very much in sync with what was going on. Even after a night out partying till 4 a.m. in the morning I still would be in office on time to take care of business. After 3 years of personal challenges after losing my Father, I realized that I had a lot going for me and decided to take charge of my life and move forward positively with passion. I returned to the gym with the goal to get fit and healthy as opposed to losing weight. I understood my body type. I am a big girl and I believe that girls should embrace their body type and strive to be healthy and feel comfortable rather than be fixated on a particular body type. Embracing your body and being healthy is what my clothing brand Double XL stands for. I reconnected with my trainer Amila at the High Octane gym and I told him that I want to get stronger as opposed to losing weight. I began a routine of strength training along with a nutrition plan that I was following. After a few months since starting strength training, in December 2018, I was bench pressing one day and Darin Weerasinghe, one of the Directors of the gym and also a Sri Lanka Powerlifting Champion and Commonwealth Gold Medalist, saw me and told me that I was pressing some very good weight and asked me why I was not competing in powerlifting.This really motivated me to hear an accomplished Sri Lankan powerlifter compliment me. The Bench Press Nationals were coming soon so my trainer and I decided to compete in this. During the same day the gym uploaded a video of me doing the deadlift and tagged me as Boss Lady Working Out and this really motivated me further to compete in powerlifting. I felt that I have some power within me. Then at the Sri Lanka Bench Press Competition in February 2019 I set a National Record of 62.5kg and came 1st Place winning the Gold Medal. After winning this event I invested more money into equipment for the sport. I then went for the 2019 Commonwealth Trials and squatted 125kg, bench pressed 70kg and deadlifted 165kg bringing the total weight to 360 kg and qualifying to compete at the 2019 Commonwealth Games. So at 36 years old I became a National Athlete which was something I never thought was possible.
F&S: You took up this strength sport at the age of 36 and now you are a National Powerlifter and a Bench Press National Record Holder, how did you manage to achieve all this within a year?
AD: I love what I do and if you really love what you do you will somehow make time for it. The love I have for powerlifting and my inner power are the reasons for this. Being a powerlifter made me realize that I can do anything I set my mind to, knowing that the power comes from within me.
F&S: You qualified to represent Sri Lanka at the 2019 Commonwealth Games but it did not happen, describe this experience and how it has made you stronger and more resilient as a powerlifter and as a woman?
AD: After I was selected for the 2019 Common Wealth Games we had 2 or 3 meetings at the Powerlifting Federation to set up everything for us to go for the games. However, unfortunately some of the athletes including myself encountered a delay in obtaining our visas as we were handling this whole process ourselves, and when I did receive my visa it was too late so I missed participating in my first Commonwealth Games. This was one of the hardest moments in my life. I went through hours and hours of hard training and made many sacrifices to get selected for the Commonwealth games so not being able to participate was very disappointing. However, I bounced back into my training with my coach at the time Amila YG. The support that I received from my loyal friend and training partner Hirantha was so valuable and this helped me immensely. My Family and the team at High Octane gym were all so supportive of me and their encouragement along with my own determination made me stronger as a woman which in turn made me a better powerlifter. Like I said before, strength comes from within. After missing my first opportunity to represent Sri Lanka in powerlifting, I went straight back into training the next day. Instead of feeling disappointed I started to look forward to better my personal records. I believe that knowing your weakness is your strength. I had the urge to go out and party but thanks to my training partner and friend HIrantha, I stayed focused on my training. Since then I have made significant improvements in all my lifts. Disappointments can make you stronger if you take it with the right attitude.
F&S: You cofounded and run Double XL which is the first plus sized brand in Sri Lanka and a premier clothing brand, how do you balance training for your sport with running your company?
AD: In my life, Double XL has been the biggest part, throughout my troubles I have always stayed connected to my brand. When I started powerlifting I can see that this sport has become my second child. I really love powerlifting. I try to manage my time efficiently and prioritize what I need to get done and this helps me run my business and train for powerlifting. I work from 9am to 5pm. Then from 5pm to 6pm I take a break at home and by 6.30pm I am at the gym. I am at then I head home, eat dinner and sleep. Then the next day is another day.
F&S: Have you been injured and how do you work around injuries?
AD: In the last year I have been injured about 3 or 4 times. Recovery is very important in powerlifting. Before I compete on stage I visualize my lifts and then I am prepared. Preparation is key to performance and minimizing injury. I have injured my collarbone, ham string injury and a few smaller injuries. A few visits to my former physio Chamare and after doing the physiotherapy I bounced back into my training. So good preparation, getting adequate rest, physiotherapy and visualization of the lifts are how you minimize and manage injuries. Dr. Thayu the physio at High Octane Recovery helps me immensely in managing my injuries and helping me get the most out of my training so that I can perform at my optimum at the competition.
F&S: Starting powerlifting at 36, did you have any physical challenges and if so how did you overcome them?
AD: There are no such physical challenge because age is just a number. Being 36, I never thought I would become a National Powerlifter. You should not worry about age, instead you should keep your mind calm and focused on what you want to achieve. Whether it is in business, sport or anything in life you should not restrict yourself but instead pursue wholeheartedly what you want to achieve. There are so many entrepreneurs who built powerful brands in their sixties and in powerlifting there is a Master Category for lifters over 40 but then there is nothing stopping a senior powerlifter from competing with someone in their early 20s. There have been plenty of examples in sport where athletes in their over 40’s have competed at the highest level and done very well. If you put your mind to it you can do anything nothing can stop you.
F&S: How do you prepare mentally before you get on stage to lift?
AD: I believe preparation both physically and mentally go together and it is what you do on a daily basis. It is a lifestyle. There are no quick fixes to preparing mentally or physically. When you are in this sport you can feel the difference, you can feel your wings, you feel great about yourself and that helps you perform when you step on the platform to compete. Powerlifting for me has been great for me mentally, it gives me immense joy and satisfaction. Just before I go on stage I listen to my music which helps me focus. My music is so diverse that it cannot be put into one particular genre. I put my music on 4 or 5 hours before I step on stage to lift. Music helps me to focus. I listen to music while I train. I am a very spiritual person and I believe in good energy. I am a practicing Buddhist but I also have belief in the Catholic faith as I studied in a Convent school. I actually believe in every religion because they all are saying good things. I believe that if you put out good you will receive goodness. I pray for good energy before I go for the meets. This is all part of the mental preparation for me. Having a good lifestyle is the best preparation in all aspects for competition and everything you do.
F&S: What are your goals for the future both in the sport and in life?
AD: I am really looking forward to competing in the 2020 World Powerlifting Championships. My most immediate goals are always to keep increasing my personal bests for the 3 lifts. At the end of the day my competition is with myself. If you look at yourself as the competitor then it is easy. Business wise we just launched our Premium Brands DXL and Adhisha by Double XL at the Shangri La. I am very excited on growing my brand and taking it to new heights. I want to take my brand global. Personally I want to live a happy life and encourage more women to take up powerlifting and help them reap the many benefits from this sport. There is a perception that this is a man’s sport, this is not true. Powerlifting will actually empower women to be strong and confident to win at anything they set their minds to. Powerlifting helped me a lot so I like to see it help other women too. I want to see the sport of powerlifting grow in Sri Lanka.
F&S: What advice do you have for people who would like to take up something new later in their lives but they are feeling nervous about going through with it because of their age?
AD: We all need excitement in our life. Take me, at 36 years old if I can be a National Athlete and going through the personal challenges I endured as well as growing my business then anything is possible. Taking up powerlifting changed my life and gave me wings. Age is just a number and one should never use this to restrict oneself. My advice is don’t be afraid to take a challenge and follow your dreams no matter what. Just remember you are never too old. We as individuals are never done until we die, so keep living your dreams and don’t let anything stop you.
F&S: Who are you grateful to that have stood by you and encouraged you in your journey?
AD: I have to be grateful forever to my parents. They gave my brother and I total freedom to follow our dreams. They gave us a good education and taught us good values that laid the foundation for our lives. My business partners are my Family members and they always encourage and support me. When it comes to powerlifting I am very grateful to my first coach Amila YG, my friend and training partner Hirantha who motivates and pushes me during our tough training sessions. My current Coach Danushka Kodikara gives me morale support and guidance so I can keep climbing the mountain of powerlifting. The High Octane family have been by my side for 7 years now and I am very appreciative of them. I want to thank all my friends who have cared for me and helped me throughout the hard times. I am grateful to Prishan the photographer who has gone out of his way as a friend to help me whenever possible and has always cheered me up. I am also thankful for Fitness & Sports for covering my story to inspire other women in this sport and to pursue their dreams. I am grateful to everyone that I meet in my life. People we meet can be a lesson or a blessing. I am always grateful to the God above for without him nothing is possible.